Colorado Buffaloes (3-2, 0-1 Pac-12) vs. Arizona State Sun Devils (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12)
Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. MT
Television: Pac-12 Networks (Kevin Calabro, Yogi Roth, Lewis Johnson)
Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM | Sirus 113 (Tim Healey, Jeff Van Raaphorst, Doug Franz)
What ASU is Wearing: The Sun Devils will be wearing black uniforms, including the debut of a black helmet with a single, large pitchfork on the side. Fans are encouraged to wear black to the game on Saturday.
Series History: The Sun Devils are 6-0 all-time against the Buffaloes, including 4-0 since Colorado joined the Pac-12. ASU won the 2014 meeting 38-24 in Boulder and last time these teams met in Tempe, ASU won 54-13.
Colorado in 2015: The Colorado season started off with a heartbreaking 28-20 loss at Hawaii. The Buffaloes were driving down to potentially tie the game when the referees took too long to get the ball from the sideline to the center of the field to be snapped, allowing time to run out and sealing the Hawaii victory (it looked a bit like ASU/Wisconsin in 2013).
The Buffaloes went on to win three straight after their loss to Hawaii, including a 27-24 victory over in-state rival Colorado State. In its conference opener, Colorado fell 41-24 to Oregon in a game that the Buffaloes were competitive for three quarters.
Because of its game in Hawaii, Colorado has 13 games scheduled instead of the typical 12. The Buffaloes have to win seven games instead of six to make a bowl game.
ASU on Offense: Mike Bercovici has taken his lumps this season - both on the field and off. Against UCLA, the redshirt senior signal caller went 27-of-44 for 273 yards with two touchdowns. He also ran for a 34-yard touchdown and had the ASU offense in control all night.
Seven Sun Devils caught passes against UCLA, including Demario Richard's eight receptions. The Sun Devils ran 90 plays against the Bruins racked up over 100 more total yards than UCLA.
"Mike has been a really consistent leader," coach Todd Graham said. "How you lead is by example, so I thought he did -- again, as he's done every week, he's done a great job leading our football team. The difference was is that we were able to put a complete game together, so we played well on offense, defense and special teams. But he's the leader of our team, hands down, and has great poise, composure, and he commands the respect of everyone."
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the ASU victory over UCLA was how the Sun Devils were able to sustain drives. ASU tallied 25 first downs and held the ball for over 37 minutes. ASU converted 10-of-23 third downs, compared to UCLA's 3-for-14 third down mark.
"We did a heck of a job on the inside run, direct runs, we've really, I think, improved blocking," Graham said. "That's the key that makes everything go for us is our direct runs, but that's an area -- what I talked to our players about today - I talked about it, we talked about in this game that giving everything you've got on every single play and doing that all week long."
One change was the return of offensive coordinator Mike Norvell to the sidelines. Norvell called one of his best games at ASU, especially in the fourth quarter.
"Like I said after the game, one of the things we wanted to do was we just kind of felt like it was just our energy level and how we were playing, the focus that we needed," Graham said. "So Coach Patterson and Coach Norvell came back down, and I thought that was a huge difference for us obviously in our players. Just everyone was pretty focused on their job at hand. I think Mike is a dynamic leader, and he's an inspirational leader, and so the players respond to him. So I liked having him back on the field."
The Inside Run: The Buffaloes will be without two key linebackers on Saturday. Addison Gillam and Kenneth Olugbode - Colorado's two best inside linebackers - are both out with injuries, leaving redshirt freshman Rick Gamboa and junior Ryan Severson to man in the inside of the Colorado defense.
Colorado fields a small defensive line (relative to other Pac-12 schools) and ASU should be able to impose its will inside with the running game. Look for Richard and Kalen Ballage to work the middle of the field early and often on Saturday night.
Capitalize on Turnovers: A key in any game is forcing turnovers and taking care of the football. Uncharacteristically, the Sun Devils have been outscored 55-10 off turnovers this season. That number is skewed a bit because of a three-play stretch against USC but the Sun Devils have not done a good job of making teams play when they turnover the football.
Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau has only thrown two interceptions this season. However, over the course of the past two seasons he threw 23 - including 15 last season. Expect the ASU defense to pressure Liufau and the ASU offense needs to capitalize off the mistakes of Colorado.
ASU on Defense: The Sun Devils have been excellent on defense thus far in 2015, and Saturday against UCLA was no exception. ASU flew to the football, forced four straight three-and-outs to start the game and confused freshman Josh Rosen all night.
The ASU defensive line was excellent against UCLA, especially JoJo Wicker, Tashon Smallwood and Viliami Latu. Smallwood played one of the best games of his career on Saturday.
"Basically guys come in as true freshmen and they don't have much training as far as being able to compute at this level, and [Smallwood] had a tremendous freshman year, but he's night and day different," Graham said. "He's been very dominant on the defensive line up there, but my envision was moving and attacking and getting in the backfield and creating negative plays, and he's done that. He's a different guy."
Colorado boasts one of the top rushing offenses in the Pac-12. The Buffaloes rank third in the league and 18th nationally in running the football, averaging over 233 yards per game. The Buffaloes feature three running backs that average over 60 yards per game.
"I definitely hope our running game is better than it was last week and that we're able to hit on it," Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre said. "When we played (ASU) last year, we ran the ball really well against them. But we had some negative runs too. But we also popped some 40 and 50 yarders. I think that's how the game will probably go. There will be a couple, ‘why did you just run that play coach?' and then it pops."
Their passing game revolves around senior wide receiver Nelson Spruce, who holds Colorado records in career receptions and receiving yards. Spruce is averaging just over six catches a game this year and has amassed 363 receiving yards in five games. He has just one touchdown reception.
Only two other Colorado receivers have double digit receptions as other receivers have struggled and as a result Spruce sees a lot of double coverage.
"The thing that presents the biggest problem is that their D-Line is quick and athletic," MacIntyre said. "So when they do stun and move, their guys are powerful and can bend. So you have to be squared up on them and staying in front of them. They do blitz you a lot. It's either feast or famine so to speak."
Make Colorado One Dimensional: The Sun Devils want to force Sefo Liufau to beat them. If they can stop Colorado's rushing attack - particularly on early downs - they can force the Buffaloes into obvious passing situations which plays into their favor. ASU held UCLA under 70 rushing yards on Saturday and if the Sun Devils can force Colorado to throw the football 40 or 50 times on Saturday night, it should translate to success.
Tackle in Space: The Sun Devils did a terrible job tackling in space against USC and the results showed. The Trojans burned ASU for big plays all night in route to a 42-14 blowout loss.
Against UCLA, they were much better in space. Because the blitz-heavy scheme that Graham and Keith Patterson use, it forces linebackers and the secondary into a lot of one-on-one matchups. ASU needs to do a good job tackling, especially against Nelson Spruce.
Colorado is an improved team that can run the football and has playmakers at quarterback and wide receiver. Liufau is one of the most underrated players in the conference and Colorado can win this game if ASU sleep walks. However, I would not expect that to happen.
Colorado is missing two key linebackers as well as an offensive tackle. This game may be close at halftime, but expect ASU to runaway with it in the second half.
Prediction: ASU 45, Colorado 21